CEPA eprint 2178

Influences on attitudes towards children with mental handicap

Gash H. & Coffey D. (1995) Influences on attitudes towards children with mental handicap. European Journal of Special Needs Education 10: 1–16. Available at http://cepa.info/2178
People begin to construct their understandings of other people in childhood. Some such constructs are referred to as prejudices. Studying ways children understand children with learning difficulties is one way to understand such constructions. Following insights from Jean Piaget and Ernst von Glasersfeld such constructions are influenced by the social experiences during childhood. Here different school experiences are shown to influence the children’s constructions in different ways. A sample of 125 girls in third and sixth class in two non-urban primary schools were given a questionnaire to assess their attitudes towards children with mental handicap. One school was integrated with two special classes of children with moderate mental handicap, the other school was not integrated. Results indicate that the girls in the integrated school are significantly more prosocial along dimensions having to do with sociability with, and social concern for children with mental handicap. Comparisons between this data set and a similar urban one reveal urban/non-urban differences in both attitude and understanding of academic difficulties. An intervention programme in the integrated school was evaluated and changes were noted in the attitudes of participants reflecting a maturing of the relationship towards children with mental handicap.
Key words: Constructing ideas on learning disabilities, integrated (inclusion) and non-integrated schools, children .
INFLUENCES ON ATTITUDES TOWARDS CHILDREN WITH MENTAL HANDICAP
Preprint for European Journal of Special Needs Education (1995), 10, 1-16.
Hugh Gash & Denise Coffey.
St Patrick’s College, Dublin.
People begin to construct their understandings of other people in childhood. Some such constructs are referred to as prejudices. Studying ways children understand children with learning difficulties is one way to understand such constructions. Following insights from Jean Piaget and Ernst von Glasersfeld such constructions are influenced by the social experiences during childhood. Here different school experiences are shown to influence the children’s constructions in different ways. A sample of 125 girls in third and sixth class in two non-urban primary schools were given a questionnaire to assess their attitudes towards children with mental handicap. One school was integrated with two special classes of children with moderate mental handicap, the other school was not integrated. Results indicate that the girls in the integrated school are significantly more prosocial along dimensions having to do with sociability with, and social concern for children with mental handicap. Comparisons between this data set and a similar urban one reveal urban/non-urban differences in both attitude and understanding of academic difficulties. An intervention programme in the integrated school was evaluated and changes were noted in the attitudes of participants reflecting a maturing of the relationship towards children with mental handicap.
INTRODUCTION
In a recent study a short term constructivist intervention programme was initiated in urban primary schools with a view to promoting positive attitudes towards children with special needs (Gash, 1993). The class discussions provided opportunities for the pupils to reconsider their ideas and attitudes through the use of questions and counterexamples. That programme raised awareness about special needs through classroom activities in a way which respected the pupils’ own constructs about special needs children. A more complete account of the theory on which the lessons were based can be found in Gash (1992).
Attitudes towards persons with disability are critical to the living conditions of the disabled. Helen Keller (quoted in Baskin and Harris 1977) put it this way: “the heaviest burdens of disability arise from personal interaction and not from the impairment itself.” In Ireland integration of children with special educational needs into mainstream education is official policy provided that good-quality education can be maintained (Ireland 1992). The importance of attitudes to educational quality has been illustrated in the national integration project in Spain which began in 1985. There it was noted that a very important factor in facilitating the process of integrating children with special needs in ordinary schools was the positive attitude of the staff towards integration (Marchesi, Echelta, Martín, Bavío, & Galán, 1990). Similarly, Lewis and Lewis (1987) have argued for the need to work with mainstream children in integration programmes to avoid stereotyping children with special educational needs and making assumptions about them as helpless. For these reasons it is important to understand both the processes of attitude change towards persons with handicap and the way the variables which are associated with these attitudes affect this process.
Generally, appropriately structured social meetings between people who are members of different social groups are known to be a good way of reducing prejudice towards minority group members (e.g. Stephan, 1984). In the case of individuals with special needs this has been demonstrated for teenagers, for example when the majority were without defined special needs and the minority were with special needs (e.g. McConkey, McCormack, and Naughton (1984). One outcome of that study was that participants reported an increase in confidence about meeting individuals with a handicap.
A variety of variables have been shown to affect people’s attitudes towards special needs. Gender, age, and experience have been shown to affect children’s attitudes towards children with mental handicap (e.g. Gottlieb (1975), McConkey et al (1983) and Gash (1993). In Gash (1993) the criterion for having experience of mental handicap was a positive response to the question “Do you know somebody with a mental handicap?” One aim of the present study was to look at the differences in attitude between children with a more specific type of experience/ inexperience, namely those in an integrated school and in a similar non-integrated school.
The integrated school was a girls only primary school (girls aged 4 to 12) in a small Irish town (population less than 10,000). The comparison school was also a girls only primary school in a neighbouring similarly sized town. The children in this study lived either in the small towns or in nearby rural areas and so can be contrasted with the children in Gash (1993) who were exclusively urban children from a large metropolitan area. The issue of whether there are differences in attitude between urban and non-urban female samples will be examined in two ways. First, by comparison of these non-urban female data with appropriate comparison urban data from Gash (1993). Second, by examining these non-urban female data for differences between the responses of the girls who live in the small towns and the girls who live in the rural areas near these towns. McConkey, McCormack and Naughton (1983) have reported some differences reported between urban and rural teenagers in their sample of second level Irish schools but they were not sure if the difference was due to the pupils having had more contact with persons with mental handicap or due to “country ethos”.
A third aim of the present study was to extend our understanding of the effects of intervention on attitude change towards children with mental handicap in a sample of girls in an integrated school and therefore who were quite used to meeting children with mental handicap. In the previous study (Gash, 1993) the intervention was at the level of classroom discussion, did not involve actually meeting children with special needs, and reported a number of positive results. In the present study the intervention was one based on drama in which a series of classes were arranged between a special class of children with moderate mental handicap and their third class peers. So there were three differences, the sample were in an integrated school, the intervention involved working with children with mental handicap in a class setting, and boys were not sampled in the treatment and control groups.
In summary, the present study was undertaken to examine the following three issues: (1) are there attitudinal differences between girls in an integrated school and girls in a non-integrated school; (2) are there attitudinal differences between urban girls and non-urban girls towards children with mental handicap; (3) and what are the consequences of arranging a series of lessons in which boys and girls with moderate mental handicap meet and work with their peers in an integrated girls’ school?
METHOD
The design and social context. In this study the pupils were pretested and posttested, thus serving as their own controls. In the integrated school there were two special multigrade classes of moderately mentally handicapped boys and girls corresponding to the upper and lower half of the grades in the primary school. The upper age limit for children in the special class was sixteen, whereas for children in the mainstream class the upper limit would be twelve. For most of the academic work of the school the special classes and the other classes worked separately. This school has been integrated in this way for 7 years and is a product of an official policy favouring integration in Ireland. The third class girls in the integrated school participated in an intervention programme of six lessons designed to break down barriers between themselves and the older group of moderately mentally handicapped children.
Subjects. The subjects were 124 girls in third class and in sixth class in two all-girls primary schools in two small, neighbouring Irish towns. There were 24 and 26 girls in the third and sixth class respectively in the integrated school; and there were 38 and 36 girls in the third and sixth grade levels respectively in the non-integrated school. (These figures were for the girls for whom there were both pretest and posttest data and are shown in Table 1.)
Table 1
Subjects by school type by grade
Integrated Non-integrated 3 rd class 24 38 6 th class 26 36
The six lessons. The lessons were all carefully structured to take about 30 minutes and were given once a week for six weeks as part of the weekly programme. The pupils who received them were the third class mainstream girls working with the senior special class. The lessons were presented as drama lessons and explored areas of physical, social and emotional exchange. A brief description of the six lessons follows.
1. An introductory set of games so the children could get to know each other’s names, and each other’s likes and dislikes. There were four sorts of games: (a) ball passing, calling out names, catching and passing in turn; (b) a cooperative game of keeping a ball bouncing on a blanket with the children holding the corners; (c) a feather duster game, in which the child whose face is dusted chases the child with the duster; and (d) other chasing games.
2. In this lesson there were a series of games in which the children’s opportunities to take initiatives and responsibilities increased, such as choosing children for roles in the games. The children in the main tended to stay with their friends and neighbours. In this game the mainstream pupils began to notice and help children in the special class who were slow in getting to the chairs.
3. One game in this session was “apples and oranges” with two lines of chairs facing each other, and there was one chair less than the number of children. The children took turns to call out a word and each word was linked to a chair swopping exercise. Another was an eye contact game with a “murderer” who winks people dead. The detective returns (from outside class and is ignorant of who is the murderer) and has to find out who is the murderer. In this game the children in the special class were a little slow to notice what was happening, but they did understand and the game was successful.
4. The children were becoming quite relaxed with each other by this session and so the level of physical contact was increased. One game involved travelling and going about the room and (1) saying “Hallo”, and (2) saying “Hallo” and shaking hands and then moving on straightaway. The other involved “sleep walking”, with hands extended, eyes closed, moving slowly, if a pupil touches someone, they must change direction without looking. Next, “sleep walking”; when a pupil meets someone they have to identify them by touching their face. The pupil moves on after guessing.
5. In this lesson touch was explored through a selection of partner activities. These increased in intensity as the lesson progressed. a. Everyone jogged around, when “Freeze” was called each had to stop beside, behind or in front of someone. b. The children worked in pairs, not touching, but they were “magnets”; that is, e.g., one child’s nose following another’s hand. c. The children connected ankles, fingers, elbows, or shoulders with their partner and moved around while maintaining the specified connection. d. Concluding activity: a tangle touch activity. The children held hands and made a chain. The chain then wound itself into a tangle and another child had to untangle it. e. The lesson finished with nine groups having a race to see which one could unravel the fastest. The teacher choose the groups with a 3:1 (mainstream:special) ratio.
6. At the beginning of this last lesson the children were allowed choose the lesson which they liked best from previous lessons. The choices agreed on were the apple and orange game with the chairs, and the feather duster games. The special class pupils particularly liked the murder by winking game.
Over the six lessons an increased level of integration did seem to permeate the proceedings as the mainstream girls and special class children mixed more freely on selected activities from the six lesson programme. Each lesson concluded with an individual wind down activity. On a positive note it should be recorded that both groups continued to work together through the medium of drama on an ongoing basis since January when the programme began until the end of the school year: further, plans are in place to continue this work in the next academic year.
The questionnaires. The questionnaire used on the pretest and the posttest was identical to that used and presented in full in Gash (1993). There were three parts to this questionnaire, (1) a twenty item attitude scale concerning a child with mental handicap: “I would like you to pretend that a new child came to your class this year. He or she has a mental handicap. Here are some questions for you to answer.” Responses to the items received one for “yes”, and two “no”. (2) A thirty-four adjective checklist, “If you were describing him or her to your other friends which of these words do you think you would use?”; and (3) a section to assess the child’s experience of children with mental handicap (“Are there any children with a mental handicap in your school/ class, and do you know anybody who has a mental handicap?”) The 20 questions from the questionnaire are presented in the Appendix.
RESULTS
Introducing the Variables; Differences between the Two Schools
The attitude questionnaire. In the previous study using this questionnaire (Gash, 1993) various group differences were illustrated non-parametrically using cross tabulations with the 20 attitudinal questions and analysing the patterns obtained with chi². In a complementary way other differences could be shown parametrically. Variables were constructed for parametric use from the attitudinal questions following a factor analysis and by summing scores on questions which had loaded at 0.40 or higher on each factor. Variables were constructed from the adjectives following a categorization of the adjectives and by creating a score based on the number of adjectives used in each category. The same approaches and composite variables were used to answer each of the questions in this present study. Only the pretest data were used in the analyses of school differences and of urban non-urban differences. The first composite variable is a measure of the extent to which a child is socially concerned about children with mental handicap. Six items were summed on this variable. They dealt with whether the respondent would smile at the newcomer with a mental handicap (question 1); would chat to him/her at break (question 3); would not be angry if he/she did not keep the rules of the game at play time (question 7 - which was recoded so as not to contribute negatively); would pick him/her on your team (question 9); would care if other children made fun of the child with the handicap (question 11); and would think that he or she would have the same hobbies as the ordinary children (question 14). Recall that one = “yes” and two = “no” so lower scores signify more concern. Girls in the integrated school have significantly more concern, shown in their lower mean pretest scores, (mean 6.56) than the girls in the other non-integrated school (mean 7.33), (F(1, 107)=21.19, pSave Selection
The next variable is a measure of a child’s willingness to identify with or form friendships with a child with mental handicap. Items which were summed on this variable were about willingness to tell him/her secrets, and making him/her your best friend (questions 4 & 5) - and thinking that he/she could read the same books as you (question 13). On this variable the younger girls (mean 4.34) were significantly more likely to answer positively on these questions than the older girls (mean 4.89), (F(1, 107)=7.90, pSave Selection
The third composite variable is a measure of a child’s willingness to be sociable. Items which were summed on this were those about sitting beside the child with handicap (question 2); inviting the handicapped child home (questions 6 & 8); and the tenth question which was about asking the handicapped child questions about him/herself. In this case the mean score of the integrated school indicated more positive attitudes (mean 5.02) than the non-integrated school (mean 5.57) (F(1, 107)=7.41, pSave Selection
The fourth composite variable reflects the extent to which a child showed a concern with schooling arrangements. The five items which were summed on this factor were: the ability of the child with a mental handicap to do the same maths and reading as other children (questions 12 and 13); and the items about special schooling (questions 16 - 18). Items 17 and 18 were recoded so as not to contribute negatively to this composite factor. This factor is about integration in the sense that it deals with the ability of the child with special needs to cope with the same maths (12) and books (13) as “ordinary children” in the same mainstream classroom (16), or (not to) have a special classroom (17), or (not to go to) a special school (18). On the pretest there were no significant differences on this variable. The non-parametric analysis showed, however, that items 17 and 18 showed significant differences in the response patterns of the two groups of pupils, with girls in the integrated school being more inclined to believe that the child with mental handicap should have a special classroom (72% of them, chi²(1) = 5.09, pSave Selection
The adjective checklist. Each child was asked to indicate which adjectives she would use to describe a mentally handicapped child to her friends from a set of descriptors arrived at by means of pilot tests. The thirty four adjectives were grouped into four sets by consensus amongst the student teachers who taught the classes in the original study: positive terms, negative terms, descriptive terms, and sensitive terms. In this way four scales could be created. So each scale shows the salience of these dimensions to their ways of thinking about a child with mental handicap.
The positive terms were as follows: clever, kind, friendly, lovable, and happy. The negative ones were: dirty, stupid, untidy, bold, dumb, rough, spa, crazy, geek, thick, simple, scary, dork, retarded, moron, twit, freak, idiot, and nerd. The descriptive ones were: neat, careful, different, shy and sloppy. Finally the sensitive ones were: special, sad, lonely, ashamed, and unhappy.
An ANOVA was performed on these pretest scores, that is on the number of items in each of these categories which were circled by girls in each condition (integrated and non-integrated) and at each grade level (third or sixth class). The ANOVA was performed on the scores of children who scored at least one on these composite items; so children for whom these dimensions of language were irrelevant to their descriptions of mental handicap were excluded (just as missing data is excluded from statistical analyses).
The girls in the integrated school (mean 4.47) used significantly more positive adjectives than the girls in the non-integrated school (mean 2.92) (F(1,121) = 42.26, pSave Selection
Experience of mental handicap
One of the items on the questionnaire was the question “Do you know someone who is mentally handicapped?”. Knowing someone with a mental handicap can be taken as a criterion of experience, and this has been shown to affect responses in an urban sample (Gash, 1993). The data can be examined from a slightly different perspective using this variable in this sample, as this variable had to be ignored in the previous analysis since it is confounded with type of school. (A majority (64 per cent) of the girls in the non-integrated school said that they knew someone with a mental handicap, and just 4 pupils in the integrated school sample said that they did not know someone with a mental handicap.) Responses (’yes’, ’no’) were contrasted on each item on experience/ inexperience of mental handicap. There were six items on which there were significant differences in the response patterns of experienced and inexperienced girls.
For each of the following items there were significant differences in the patterns of response for experienced and inexperienced girls. In presenting each case the overall picture is given first. Most of the girls in the sample (69 per cent) indicated that they would sit beside the newcomer who had a mental handicap (item 2); however, there was a significant difference in the responses of experienced (86 per cent, yes) and inexperienced girls (14 per cent, yes) (chi²(1) = 9.80, pSave Selection
On eight ANOVAs prepared with experience/ inexperience of mental handicap as the independent variable and the composite variables as dependent variables only one gave a significant difference. The 97 girls who said that they knew someone with a mental handicap had a significantly higher mean score on summed positive adjectives (mean 3.87) than the girls who did not know a person with a mental handicap (mean 2.46), (F(1,121) = 11.35, pSave Selection
Urban non-urban differences
It was not possible in this study to control for experience/ inexperience of mental handicap in the school samples. Therefore steps have been taken in the analyses to ensure that urban/ non-urban and experience/ inexperience were not confounded by means of both appropriate sample selection and statistical analyses. Urban non-urban differences were examined in two complementary ways: first, the girls’ data from the unintegrated school in the present non-urban sample were contrasted with similar data (pretest and same grade levels in both data sets) from the urban control group (also an unintegrated school) in the Gash (1993) database. Second, the data from the children in the present experiment were examined for differences between children who live in the small towns in the sample and the children who live outside these towns. Differences between (urban) and (non-urban) girls. In the urban control sample (from Gash 1993) there were 38 girls at third class and 29 at sixth class. The results of these urban girls were contrasted with the non-urban girls in the sample from the unintegrated girls’ school. There were significant differences in the response patterns (’yes’, ’no’) of the urban and non-urban children to six of the 20 attitudinal items. Fifty-five percent of the children said that they would not like to sit beside a child with mental handicap (item 2), and there were significantly more urban children (64 per cent) in this group than non-urban children (chi²(1) = 4.00, pSave Selection
The five remaining patterns described in this paragraph were essentially the same in both the experienced and inexperienced groups. Most of the children in the sample (84 per cent) indicated that they would chat to the child with mental handicap at break (item 3), yet significantly more (92 per cent) of the non-urban children responded positively to this item than did the urban children (75 per cent) (chi²(1) = 5.21, pSave Selection
Eight ANCOVAs were computed with the composite variables as the dependent variables and location and grade as independent variables and controlling for experience/ inexperience by covarying out its effects. In the ANCOVAs of the variables composed via factor analysis, on the variable social concern the younger girls were significantly more concerned (mean 7.09) than the older girls (mean 7.54) (F(1, 129)=8.37, pSave Selection
The ANCOVAs on the composite variables formed from the adjectives showed more grade effects and interactions than differences between urban and non-urban girls. The non-urban girls used significantly more negative adjectives (mean 2.09) than the urban girls (mean 1.18) (F(1,134) = 5.40, pSave Selection
Differences between town and country. To complement the above analyses the non-urban girls (the original sample in this study) were asked if they lived in the town or the country. Contrasts of responses to the 20 items on the questionnaire with the variable location (rural, town) yielded only one significant difference in the pattern obtained. Sixteen percent of the subjects indicated that they would be afraid of a child with mental handicap, of these the rural girls were significantly more likely (63 per cent) to indicate that they would be afraid of a child with mental handicap than their town based peers (38 per cent) (chi²(1)=6.75, pSave Selection
Eight ANCOVAs were computed with the composite variables as the dependent variables and location (town or rural) as the independent variable, and controlling for experience/ inexperience by covarying out its effects. The (39) rural girls had significantly higher pretest mean scores in their use of negative adjectives (mean 2.74) than the (83) girls living in town (mean 0.78) (F(1,119) = 12.80, pSave Selection
The effects of the intervention
There were two ways in which these data were analysed. The first one, using dependent t-tests, is to see if the means on the posttest differ significantly from the means on the pretest for (1) the taught group and (2) the control group. In considering the group who received the lessons, and comparing the pretest (mean 3.20) and posttest (mean 2.75) scores there was a significant decrease in the use of summed descriptive adjectives (t(23) = 2.54, pSave Selection
A second way of analysing the data is to take account of the variation which occurs on the pretest when looking at the differences on the posttest using analysis of covariance. In this analysis which was performed on all the girls (third and sixth class in our non-urban sample) the only variable which showed a significant difference on the posttest (over and above the differences which were implied by the pretest) was on the variable dealing with social concern about the mentally handicapped children.
There were significant differences on the posttest on this variable “social concern”, over and above the differences implied by the pretest, between the grade levels (F(1, 114)=8.54, pSave Selection
DISCUSSION
Differences between the Two Schools
In a number of important ways, the girls in the integrated school were more positive socially than the girls who attended the non-integrated school. This is encouraging as an affirmation of the social benefits which can be achieved by integration programmes. On two of the four composite variables formed from the 20 attitude items the girls had more prosocial scores. The two composite variables were in the areas of (1) social concern, and of (2) sociability: there were also significant differences at the item level on two of the school-related questions.
At the item level in the domain of social concern, three items indicated greater social concern in girls in the integrated school: indicating understanding of the need for (a) flexibility about rules of games at play time, and for (b) picking a child with mental handicap for one’s team in a competition, and also understanding that a child with mental handicap can have the same hobbies. In terms of attitudes towards integration, girls in the integrated school believed that children with mental handicap should have provision for integration in their own school; that is, a special classroom but not a special school. The composite scores based on adjectives showed that the girls in the integrated school used more positive terms and less negative terms in their descriptions of a child with mental handicap compared with the girls in the unintegrated school. This too is encouraging and, in addition, the girls in the non-integrated school used more sensitive adjectives in their descriptions than the girls in the integrated school. The younger boys in the previous study (Gash, 1993) were the most frequent users of these adjectives. It would seem, then, that the use of these sensitive words (special, sad, lonely, ashamed, and unhappy) may be an index of an initial attitude of sympathy which fades and, hopefully, moves towards more positive social attitudes with experience. It would require a longitudinal approach to examine this issue satisfactorily.
Experience of mental handicap
Experience/ inexperience of mental handicap judged on the basis of answers (’yes’, ’no’) to the question “do you know someone with a mental handicap?” had been found in a previous study (Gash, 1993) to be relevant to the responses to this questionnaire. In this present study experience and school type are confounded; however, we found that in general the findings of the earlier study were replicated in that inexperienced children were less positively disposed towards children with mental handicap on the following items: (2) ’Would you ask him or her to sit beside you?’; (5) ’Would you make him or her your best friend?’; (8) ’Would you invite him or her to your birthday party?’; (9) ’Would you pick him or her to your team in a competition?’. Identical differences were reported in the previous study (ibid.) for items 2, 5, and 8, and, in addition, in both the present and previous studies the experienced girls were more likely to appreciate the difficulties a child with mental handicap might have with maths (item 12). In the present study the inexperienced girls were more likely (item 15) to be afraid of a child with mental handicap. This was not the case with the previous urban study, and this finding will may well be due to the rural ethos of part of the present sample. In the next section of the paper we will see that in the (small) proportion of pupils who stated that they feared children with mental handicap - a large majority lived outside the towns in rural areas.
Finally, in the analyses of composite variables experienced girls were more likely than inexperienced ones to use positive adjectives in their descriptions of a child with mental handicap, more likely to want to identify and form friendships with, and more likely to be sociable towards a child with mental handicap.
Urban non-urban differences
The image of the rush of urban life in which people have less time to talk to each other than people living in small towns and rural areas was reflected in these data. In various ways the urban girls were less friendly and more distant than their non-urban counterparts, and generally these findings were independent of the dimension experience/ inexperience. For example, at the item level the urban girls were less likely to indicate that they would sit beside, chat to, or make a best friend of a child with mental handicap. In addition, the urban sample were less understanding of the difficulties which a child with mental handicap would experience in the items dealing with maths and reading capacity in comparison with their non-urban peers more of whom understood the difficulties which a child with mental handicap might have with these topics. It might be said on the positive side, however, that the urban children were more aware than their non-urban peers that children with mental handicap could have the same hobbies as other children.
A clearer prosocial dimension appears in the thinking of the urban girls as compared with the non-urban in the analysis of the composite variables. In these procedures the influence of experience/ inexperience was removed via analysis of covariance. The urban girls in comparison with their non-urban peers were more positively disposed to total integration (i.e. in the same classroom) and used less negative words than the non-urban girls in their descriptions of a child with mental handicap.
Turning to the differences between the rural girls and their peers who lived in small towns: rural girls were more inclined to say that they were afraid of, and were less sociable towards a child with mental handicap. In addition, they used more negative adjectives in their selected descriptors than did the town girls. Intuitively one could suspect that the fear and the negative adjectives are associated in the way these rural girls think about children with mental handicap. The other results in this study show that with suitable experiences (i.e. when the girls are in an integrated school like the one studied here) both the fear and the negativity are not present.
Grade differences and Interactions
In the combined urban - non-urban sample the younger girls used more descriptive and positive adjectives; further, younger girls were more likely to identify and form friendships with and be more socially concerned about children with mental handicap.
It is encouraging therefore that there was an interaction between grade and condition in the non-urban sample for the variable social concern, which implied that in the integrated school social concern was more pronounced in the upper grade level, whereas in the unintegrated school it was lower in the upper grade level.
There was an interaction between grade and location on the use of positive adjectives, so that in the non-urban sample the older girls were more inclined to use positive adjectives, and in the urban sample it was the younger girls who were so inclined. It may be that there are developmental trends involved here, which involve a building up of attitudes followed by a fading away. This is also illustrated in the rural girls in the non-urban group who tend to be more negative, whereas the older rural girls were more positive than the younger ones. In the urban group too the younger girls were more positive and this tendency faded as they grew older.
Overall, there are indications here of a number of specific differences in the way in which the rural and urban cultures of these girls think about or understand children with mental handicap.
The effects of the intervention
The data describing the intervention replicate some of the results of the earlier study (Gash, 1993). Recall that the girls in the experimental group in the present study were normally in daily contact with the children with mental handicap so the intervention experience provided an opportunity for the two groups of girls to meet more closely for a shared activity. This intervention therefore goes significantly beyond the intervention in Gash (ibid.). Comparison of the pretest and posttest means in the experimental group showed that after the lessons their ideas had changed somewhat. They had restricted the quantity of descriptive words they used to describe children with mental handicap, and they had become more circumspect about identifying and forming friendships with them - which could be interpreted also as being more aware of the constraints on their relationships. More precisely, the girls in the experimental group were a little more hesitant about making the child with mental handicap their best friend, more aware of the reading difficulties, and a little less willing to share secrets. In ways this compares well with some of the results in the previous study (Gash, 1993) in which as a result of the classroom lessons and discussions the children with experience of mental handicap became more aware of the difficulties involved in friendship with them. When this is taken in the context of the existing and demonstrated positive ambience of the integrated school, and of the success of the experimental classes, we believe that it represents a maturing of the children’s understanding of the child with mental handicap.
The dramatic effects of the questionnaire on the third class control group remain something of a mystery. It was quite clearly not the case that the questionnaire had the same effect at the higher grade level - sixth class - in either school. So the hypothesis that it was the questionnaire itself which sensitized the girls in the unintegrated school is not generally supported. Further the third class teacher was not aware of having done anything resembling an intervention to promote positive attitudes towards children with mental handicap in class, so we have no evidence to suggest these results are due to a specific incident like the phenomenon which in the study of moral judgment is called a generation effect (Rest 1978). It is possible that the questionnaire sensitized the children to the issues and that they engaged in discussions amongst themselves and so established an attitude of social desirability which was revealed in the posttest. Whatever the cause, we feel some satisfaction that the questionnaires promoted positive attitudes in this sample of “control” third class girls towards children with mental handicap.
An alternative way to look at the influences on posttest scores is to remove the effects of pretest differences via analysis of covariance. This approach showed an increase in the third class’s “social concern” via the significant grade by school interaction. This seems largely due to the differences discussed above for the third class control girls, though the girls in the taught classes changed in the right direction (Figure 3). In addition, there were grade level differences and school differences indicating that both older girls and girls in the integrated school show more social concern. These differences provide support for the validity of this variable and also we feel reassured that this dimension of human relationship appears to be developmental - especially in the integrated school.
We should not omit mention of the warm, informal endorsement of the intervention programme by the children, the fact that it continued until the end of the school year and seems set to continue as part of the regular curriculum. Finally, we acknowledge the need for a more qualitative approach in future studies of this type to complement the quantitative approach used here.
CONCLUSION
In a variety of ways, girls in this sample who attended the integrated school were more prosocial than their peers in an unintegrated school. This is an encouraging illustration of the potentially positive effects of integration on children’s social attitudes, and these results provide support for the ecological validity of the measure used. Some differences were shown between responses of urban and non-urban children and these, we hope, in addition to age and experience, may be of use to teachers who are preparing their classes to receive a child with special needs in their school. Finally, the general support found here for the influence of age and experience on these attitudes towards children with mental handicap provides a replication of Gash (1993), affirming the importance of these variables in this area of social development.   
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Thanks are expressed to the schools, teachers, and children who so willingly cooperated in this project; and to Dr. Michael Martin and Patricia Hanlon at the Educational Research Centre at St Patrick’s College for their help, and to Trevor James at the National Rehabilitation Board for contributing to the costs of processing and analysing the data.
REFERENCES
Baskin, B.H., & Harris, K.H. (1977). Notes from a different drummer: A guide to juvenile fiction portraying the handicapped. New Providence, N.J.: Bowker.
Coffey, D. (1993). ’A study of how an integration policy within a school can improve children’s attitudes towards their mentally handicapped peers’. Project submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the inservice B.Ed. degree, St Patrick’s College, Dublin 9.
Gash, H. (1992). ’Reducing prejudice: constructivist considerations for special education’, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 7, 146-155.
Gash, H. (1993). ’A constructivist attempt to change attitudes towards children with special needs’, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 8, 106-125.
Gottlieb, J. (1975). ’Attitudes towards retarded children: effects of labelling and behavioral aggressiveness’, Journal of Educational Psychology, 67, 581-585.
Ireland (1992). Education for a changing world. (Green Paper). Dublin: The Stationary Office.
Lewis, A., & Lewis, V. (1987). ’The attitudes of young children towards peers with severe learning difficulties’, British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 5, 287-292.
Marchesi, A., Echelta, G., Martín, E., Bavío, M., and Galán, M. (1991). ’Assessment of the integration project in Spain’, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 6, 185-200.
McConkey, R., McCormack, B., & Naughton, M. (1984). ’Preparing non-retarded young persons to meet mentally retarded adults’, American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 88, 691-694.
McConkey, R., McCormack, B., & Naughton, M. (1983). ’A national survey of young peoples’ perceptions of mental handicap’, Journal of Mental Deficiency Research, 27, 171-183.
Rest, J., Davison,, M.L., & Robbins, S. (1978). ’Age trends in judging moral issues: a review of cross sectional, longitudinal, and sequential studies of the Defining Issues Test’, Child Development, 49, 263-279.
Stephan, W. G. (1984). ’Intergroup relations’. In: LINDSEY, G. and ARONSON, E. (Eds) Handbook of Social Psychology, Volume 2, New York: Random House. Appendix
1. Would you smile at him/her on the first day? 2. Would you ask him/her to sit beside you? 3. Would you chat to him/her at break time? 4. Later on, would you tell him/her secrets that you usually keep for your friends? 5. Would you make him/her your best friend? 6. Would you invite him/her to your house to play in the evenings? 7. Would you feel angry if he/she did not keep the rules of your games at play time? 8. Would you invite him/her to your birthday party with your other friends? 9. Would you pick him/her on your team in a competition? 10. Would you ask him/her questions about themselves? 11. Would you care if other children made fun of the handicapped child? 12. Do you think the handicapped child could do the same maths as you? 13. Do you think that he/she could read the same books as you? 14. Do you think that he/she would have the same hobbies as the ordinary children? 15. Would you feel afraid of him/her because they were mentally handicapped? 16. Do you think mentally handicapped children should be taught in the same classroom as ordinary children? 17. Should mentally handicapped children have their own special classroom in your school? 18. Should mentally handicapped children have their own special school where all the children are handicapped? 19. Do handicapped children prefer other handicapped children as friends? 20. Can you tell if a child is mentally handicapped by just looking at his/her face?
Found a mistake? Contact corrections/at/cepa.infoDownloaded from http://cepa.info/2178 on 2016-05-13 · Publication curated by Hugh Gash